By AMY CALDER

WATERVILLE — Concerned that the city may not be authorized to operate because its budget is suspended, City Solicitor Bill Lee recommends the City Council on Monday approve an emergency measure that would allow the city to continue to spend money until councilors approve a new municipal and school budget.

That meeting, at which the council also will consider repealing the vote that overrode Mayor Nick Isgro’s veto of the $38 million budget and then reopening the budget to make further cuts, will be held at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers.

The budget and a city revaluation resulted in a tax rate of $24.50 per $1,000 worth of assessed value, but while the tax rate was reduced from $27.80, some people’s taxes will go up significantly because of the revaluation.

The council voted to approve the $38 million municipal and school budget July 5. Mayor Nick Isgro vetoed it the next day, saying it was beyond many people’s ability to pay such high taxes. Councilors July 19 voted to override his veto. The budget is suspended because an affidavit was filed with the city clerk’s office Friday, notifying the city that a petition is being circulated to repeal the council’s override.

Lee said Monday in a phone interview that he has a serious question about whether the city can spend money with a suspended budget, and he wants to act quickly to ensure it can operate.

“I am recommending that the council pass an emergency order next Monday to basically continue funding at the pre-July 1 levels until we have a budget,” Lee said.

City Manager Michael Roy said he agrees the measure would provide for temporary city funding until the council approves a budget.

“I think it’s really the prudent way for the city to proceed, and that is to reopen the budget and try to get agreement about appropriate reductions, which I hope will address people’s concerns about the tax rate and then we can move forward,” Roy said.

“I don’t think, at the meeting next Monday night, that we’re going to get into specific discussions about where to make cuts,” he said. “I think that will be done at the next meeting, August 16.”

Roy said no one knew the implications of a petition drive — that it would suspend the budget — until it was submitted to the city clerk’s office Friday.

Isgro said Monday that he has not talked with all seven councilors, but he has talked to several, and Roy has talked to the others about how they plan to vote Monday.

“My understanding is that there is a consensus that the council will consider reopening the budget, and it is my understanding that the council is in favor of doing that and in favor of scheduling the matter for a separate budget meeting the following week,” Isgro said.

In other words, he said, the council would not come up with a final budget Monday. Instead, it would hold a budget workshop next week to discuss reductions and vote on a budget the following week, as Roy believes will happen.

Asked how much he thinks the $38 million should be cut, Isgro said he hates to put a number on it. He said it is important for people to understand that city officials did not really have an understanding of the full impact of the property revaluation until the night the council took a final vote on the budget. When notices started going out and people were seeing how much their taxes were impacted, Isgro then vetoed the budget, he said. He thinks councilors and city officials will dig into the budget and see what they can do, he said.

“I think it’s important that we go in with an open mind and really ask tough questions about every area where we’re spending money,” he said. “I think it’s important we go in open-minded and level-headed.”

Lee emailed a memo to councilors Monday saying that, to his knowledge, the city has never gone more than several days into a fiscal year without an operating budget.

The city’s fiscal year is July 1 to June 30.

“I am very concerned that we have not authorized funding for the operation of the city,” his memo says. “Since I do not think it is anyone’s intention to send everyone home, if the budget is not going to be finalized by August 1, consideration should be given to having an emergency order that night providing for funding operation of the municipal government at pre-July 1 levels until the budget is passed. An emergency order must be passed unanimously, and the basis of the emergency must be stated in an introduction.”

Lee’s memo outlines the process councilors should follow when they reconsider a motion to override the budget veto.

First, a councilor who voted on the prevailing side must make a motion, and that motion can be seconded by any councilor. A debate may ensue and it may be passed by a simple majority.

If the motion is approved, the budget order is in the same position it was just before the override vote was taken, according to Lee. The resolution to override would then be moved and seconded and debate can follow, he said.

Unless five councilors vote to override the veto, the veto is sustained, according to Lee. If the veto is sustained, that puts an end to the referendum petition as the action requested by the petition has been fulfilled by the council, he said.

Assuming the veto is sustained, the budget would then be in the same position it was just before it underwent a second reading and vote, and councilors may at that point make amendments.

After amendments are made, councilors would consider a vote to approve as amended and the mayor could veto again. After voting to sustain a veto, the council could also postpone the issue to a certain date for further discussion and amendments.

Lee said in the phone interview that typically the council approves budgets earlier, in June, although he has seen it go into July by a couple of days.

He said a serious question can be raised as to whether the city can be spending money when the budget is suspended and he wants to act as quickly as he can to eliminate any question about that.

“I wish to cure it as quickly as I can,” he said. “The city has to function. The trash has to be picked up, police have to respond to calls, rescue has to respond to emergencies, the city clerk has to get the agenda out for the meeting we’re having next Monday night and so forth,” he said.

Someone could try to argue, for instance, that the city can not legally operate now, according to Lee.

“I just see it as a serious issue, and I want the council to act as quickly as it can to remedy that,” he said.

Lee said he will advise the council to finalize the budget in June in the future to avoid the problem it has encountered.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17